Human Rights Movements and Human Rights Defenders: Challenges and Prospects

Human Rights Movements and Human Rights Defenders: Challenges and Prospects
9 – 10 August 2012
Jointly organized by Vigil India Movement and Ecumenical Christian Centre

A national level seminar on “Human Rights Movements and Human Rights Defenders: Challenges and Prospects” was organized in conjunction with M.A. Thomas National Human Rights Award 2012 from 9 to 10 August 2012 at the Ecumenical Christian Centre.  This seminar highlighted the Challenges and Prospects of Human Rights Movement and Human Rights Defenders in India Today and critically analyzed several issues of ongoing struggle at different parts of the country such as   Anti-nuclear power project, Anti-Posco project, Srikakulam Thermal plant, Chaliyar river pollution, air pollution, environmental rights, indigenous people’s rights and Land rights etc. 

There were about 25 participants from different background attended in the seminar and shared their experience working at different level to promote human rights culture.

Dr.  Cherian Thomas, Director ECC and Secretary Board of Trustees, Vigil India Movement, welcomed the participants and introduced the core value of the seminar.

Mr. B.R.P Bhaskar, a senior Journalist and Human Rights Defender delivered the thematic address “Human Rights movements and Human rights Defenders- Challenges and Prospects in India today” In his address Mr. Bhaskar quoted Jawaharlal’s statement as to India having as many as 70 million problems which it faced based on those days population. Currently we have 1 billion problems to solve. The tribal problems of anti-posco movement at Orissa were narrated where the South Korean Steel project which if completed would be the biggest steel project in the world. This has created a land mobilisation problem for the tribal’s who are to be moved out of their habitat and given accommodation away from their source of livelihood. If the project is completed, it would be the biggest foreign direct investment in India with about 120 billion USD. The parliament of India has approved of this project and the FDI. This tribal agitation is being helped by the Maoist and the naxals.

The case of Binayak Sen was given an insight into where international intervention was brought in, which turned the scenario in the Indian judiciary and he was granted a bail. Soni Sori’s case of rape victim suffering under the hands of Police and the naxals was brought into the lime light how the innocent victims were being targeted and tortured by both the Police Force and the Naxal militants.
He spoke on the supremacy of the civilians. The disregard of the constitution of India by the parliamentarians was brought in when he spoke of the Schedule - 9 of the constitution.

Mr. Syed Musab, a Research Scholar, who has travelled frequently to the Anti-POSCO and Anti-Koodankulam as part of his research studies, elaborated the consistence of Peoples Movements and Peoples Struggles in India.  The struggle against POSCO in Odisha and another against nuclear power plant in Koodankulam are two different kind of People’s resistance. While one is against land, displacement and overall neo liberal economic policy, the other is more ideological fight against nuclear energy but in both these struggle the running theme is the question of democracy.

In both the places one in upper part of India and another in lower part of this great nation the struggle has faced massive repression from the state. Those fighting against government policies and actions are slammed with numerous cases. Their protest is slammed as seditious and their actions are considered as ‘waging war against state’. This in turn has created a human crisis. People in POSCO project villages are suffering since seven years although the movement has never surrendered itself. The people in these villages facing charges are unable to go outside see doctors, women inside the villages have gynecological issues but they are not getting the right treatment.

But both these resistance movement have shown great strength although in Koodankulam things are not very optimistic but in their phase of struggle strong culture of resistance is well exhibited. The women of both these affected areas have played phenomenal role to keep the struggle alive.

There is certainly a great gap in communication as well, communication not in the sense that state is unable to hear them but in terms that the language and semiotic production of these movements are yet not significant enough to bring ‘new’ political imagination. Over 15000 people in Koodankulam areas surrendered their voter id card – which in itself is very remarkable but yet it was not significant enough to take the issue seriously, on the contrary the state slammed almost all the villagers with charges of sedition. This is not just limited to these two places but across the globe people are trying to find new language, new semantics to express their political imagination, the world they really want to live in.

Right to Water: Plachimada Experience of struggle against coco-cola was presented by Mr. Ajayan a frontline activist from Kerala. The land water at Plachimada was polluted because of the extensive sucking of water by Coco-cola. The people’s movement has brought about the closure of Coco-cola plant there.  However, the compensation due to the people is yet to come. The Plachimada Coco-cola Victims Relief and Compensation claims Special Tribunal Bill 2011 was unanimously passed by the Kerala Legislative Assembly. But the bill was sent to the President of India for his ascent or approval.  But the bill was erroneously sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, for clarification on some points. The Home Ministry forwarded it to the Kerala Government for their remarks and opinions, which has already been forwarded to the Home Ministry by the Kerala Government. But the Bill has not yet been approved by President of India. Still the struggle continues. 

Mr. Ashif Shaikh, Jan Sahas presented a paper on “Right to Dignity: - Struggle of Manual Scavengers in Madhya Pradesh”.  In common the dalits are being employed in manual scavenging work in India and they are being ill-treated.  Most of the manual scavengers get very minimum wage compare to the others.  Jan Sahas through its Garima Abhiyan Programme liberated several of manual scavengers in Madhya Pradesh.   The life is to live with dignity and honour, and so the women who were given a few clothes, some food and some money for the Manual Scavenging of human faces have been liberated and empowered to take care of their life by themselves.  More women are to be liberated in time to come.  Adding to that Dr. Moses Yesudoss briefly explained about the problems of manual scavenging and its continuous practice despite of several laws and bills to abolish the practice. 

Generally lands are precious to the people. This is so, as it is one primary piece of evidence that man has lived on earth. In ancient society most tribes had access to common lands. But in later day societies, the working people don’t have ownership of lands even to do minimal agriculture. Nowadays, our lands are going into the hands of big investors and realtors in a massive way. The government is doing the work of broker to take away lands from the people and hand it over to corporates especially MNCs. Singur, Nandigram, Mathur, Sriperumbudur, Hosur are some of the places where this is evident, as well as the people’s struggle to resist this trend. Adv. Megala and Adv. Manimegalai from Makkal Mandram, Kanchipuram explained the ground reality of Land Grabbing in Kanchipuram with few illustrations.

Mr. Sony George, Programme Officer, UNICEF took a session on Child Rights Movement in India.   Mr. George narrated the rights of the children with regard to the society in which they live. The provision of Child Rights Convention to protect the rights of the child is well explained.  He also briefed the failure of government mechanism in promoting the rights of the Children.   Children should be taken care with love and affection and should be educated in a way that they deserve certain rights to enjoy childhood freedom.  

Ms. Ranjini Sambath briefed about the Women Rights Movement in India and their struggle for socio- economic empowerment.  At the conclusion Dr. Faizan Mustafa, Vice-chancellor of NALSAR University, Hyderabad explained about the Human Rights Violation and the Response of Indian Jurisprudence. Dr. Mustafa narrated how in the case of handling rape cases “Know” “yes” is the ruling. He also spoke about concern to rape where marks of resistance are not seen on the violator
He referred to gender bias as being as obvious from Nargis Mirsa vs. Air India case. The difference from Kartavya Jurisprudence vs. Rights Jurisprudence was brought clearly.  To do one’s duty and not to talk of rights is Kartavya Jurisprudence as against to deal with the rights of human being which is Rights Jurisprudence. The Mughal system of humanizing penology was touched upon by him. How death sentence was not easy to come by in the Mughal system. He also spoke about the human rights situation in India, how the constitution is framed for constitutionalism and how discretion is used for creating exemptions to rules. He elaborated on censorship, privacy and religious followings. He also stressed uniform civil courts to be discussed at length in the country and awareness brought in.

The seminar was concluded by ascertaining to bring collective force to struggle for the rights of the peoples.

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